Thursday, September 02, 2010

On irony

Regular readers may remember the trauma we experienced with the maths department in respect of our elder son. At the time that this was going on, I was venting to a friend (let's call her Rachel) with kids at the same school. She could relate to my situation, because her own experience of the maths department with one of her older sons (let's call him Tim) was not a happy one.

Tim, Rachel tells me, is one of those people who takes a little longer to grasp a new concept. But, once he's got it, he's got it good. Having done well at GCSE maths, he had opted to take the subject at A level. But things were not going well, and he was becoming steadily more discouraged. At the first progress meeting, Rachel was advised that Tim should give up maths because he was simply never going to get it.

This pushed Rachel's 'I'll show you' button. When it comes to her kids, the mild-mannered Rachel gives me a run for my money in the tigress stakes!

She found her son a private tutor and enlisted the support of the same Ms Verity I have mentioned before. Tim passed A level maths strongly and went on to study it at university.

He has just taken up his first post as a maths teacher... at the very same school he attended himself.

This means that Tim and the teacher who wrote him off will be colleagues... and this is not the first story of this kind I have heard.

Teachers please take care. I have personal experience that crow and humble pie don't taste very good and egg makes an uncomfortable facial accessory.

The same teacher who was so discouraging of Tim, recently advised my younger son - during 6th form induction - not to sign up for maths A levels. This after an impassioned speech to the whole group about how it was the most important subject in the curriculum and an absolute must, yadda yadda. What changed her tune was that she learned that my son and one other child present had been in set 5 of 9 for GCSE maths, and she felt that they would 'struggle'. She had apparently already advised all the kids in set 6 and below against attending the talk on maths at all.

The daft thing is that, 5th set or not, he sat exactly the same exam as the kids in the top set... and he got a solid B. What's wrong with that, I ask you?

He returned from the induction full of doubt, and started casting about for an alternative subject. I was livid, nay, apoplectic. Those of you who know me well can just imagine how this played out.

This is a kid who, since the age of 3, has wanted to be an explosives demolitionist. Never once has he wavered from this goal. If he is to realise this ambition, he will need to study structural engineering. One of the entrance requirements is a solid pass in maths at A level. He knows how hard he is going to have to work, and is prepared for the challenge.

As my husband said, "So, he may struggle. So what? Is there a rule against struggling somewhere? If he struggles, we'll find him some extra help. That's what parents do."

We get the impression that the department - or at least, this teacher - is only interested in kids who are going to sail through and score the sort of results that will keep the school in its lofty position on the local league tables. My mother in law has a sticker on her fridge that says, "The forest would be a quiet place if no birds sang but the best." Our kids may not be among the best, but, by 'eck, they're going to get to sing! To put a (slightly) more polite spin on a South Africanism, that woman does not get to urinate on our son's campfire! It may be that he changes his mind about what his career choice (our elder son did exactly that, shortly after starting 6th form) but it is to be his choice to make! It is not to be foisted upon him by someone with an agenda.

So, tomorrow, he goes into school to sign up for his A level subjects, and maths (with mechanics) will be one of them. He may well struggle, but (as the great Gretzky says) you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

Not all parents are as determined, as resource-rich, as stubborn, as supportive, as teeth-clenchingly bloody-minded as my friend Rachel and me. My heart sinks as I wonder how many young people are giving up on their life's dreams because of what a teacher has said.

Let's be enablers, folks.


V Yonkers said...

I am with you on this. My son is entering his last year of high school and wanted to take calculus based physics. Math is not his strongest subject, but his guidance counselor, unlike others I have heard about, has suggested that students stretch in their senior year. The school's philosophy is that it is better to get a C (average) in Honors classes than it is to get an A (the highest grade) in easier classes. Don't let him know it, but I am very glad my son opted for the hardest curriculum he could take including 2 courses at a local university and 3 other university level classes at the high school. Now if we could just get the athletic coaches on board...

Karyn Romeis said...

@Virginia My son's highest results were for Religious Studies, Drama and IT. He's not carrying any of those forward. He has identified where he wants to go and what he needs to get there. The result is that the subjects he is taking will require additional effort because they don't come as naturally to him.

Of course, there is an argument for doing just the subjects that you love or those that some most naturally to you. But life is also about goal-setting and doing what is necessary in order to achieve those goals, which includes the tough things. I am proud that my son is prepared to gird his loins and set his face like flint.

I don't deny that he might change course halfway through, but there is more to learning about life than getting good grades, and this is an opportunity to experience some of that, firsthand.

Rina said...

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